Hong Kong Tourist Arrivals See First Drop Since Financial Crisis

Hong Kong tourist arrivals fell almost 9 percent in March, the first monthly drop since June 2009, as fewer visitors from mainland China crossed the border.

The number of people entering the former British colony slipped 8.7 percent year on year to 4.4 million, according to data released Thursday by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Visitors from the mainland fell 10 percent to 3.24 million.

The decline comes amid slowing economic growth in China and protests in Hong Kong over day-trippers and traders who buy daily necessities in the city to resell them on the mainland. Earlier in April, China agreed to limit short-term visitors, who account for about 15 percent of retail spending in Hong Kong, according to Raymond Yeung, a Hong Kong-based economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

Local retail sales fell in the first two months the year as Chinese tourist arrivals slowed, falling 14 percent during the recent Ching Ming holiday, the city government has said.

Spending on luxury items plunged 14 percent last year, while the sales of medicine, cosmetics and groceries saw as much as a 9.3 percent gain, government data show.

The trend has led to clashes between protesters and traders in border areas, spurring arrests and demands from lawmakers to curb visits. The incidents have stoked tension with the mainland, after Hong Kong students led months-long street protests demanding more autonomy in local elections.

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